Riverside County approves new contract to increase the number of license-plate reading cameras

Rob McMillan Image
Friday, November 3, 2023
Riverside County adding more license-plate reading cameras
Riverside County approved a new contract that will nearly double the number of license-plate recognition cameras in the county.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve a new contract with a company that operates license-plate recognition cameras throughout the county.

The new contract will nearly double the number of cameras in the Riverside County Sheriff's Department's territory, bringing the number from 210 that are currently operating to a new total of 538 cameras.

"We've had some serious violent crimes in our county," said Undersheriff Don Sharp during public testimony before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. "And we've used this modern technology of what law enforcement is supposed to be, to be able track people down in a timely manner before they commit another crime."

But there are some who are concerned about what the technology means for their own privacy, or that it will be used for nefarious purposes.

"I live in an area where I can't move within a block of my house without, I suspect, being detected by one of those devices," said Brad Anderson of Rancho Mirage at the board meeting.

"We're talking millions and millions of dollars for surveillance of the public, and I'm sure a lot of groups would be opposed to it if they only knew about it."

In a statement, the ACLU of Southern California called the technology "invasive, dangerous, and unnecessary intrusions" for communities.

"By enabling the government to keep precise location information about everyone that drives past them regardless of whether they committed a crime, they make it more likely that the police will target minorities, political activists, and poor people without any evidence that they reduce crime or make us safer," a statement from ACLU senior staff attorney Mohammad Tajsar said in part.

The hardware and software for the camera system is manufactured by Flock Safety, and has been in operation in Riverside County for three years.

Law enforcement said it doesn't give officials the capability to monitor live feeds from each camera. Instead, a computer records still images of each and every vehicle that passes by a particular camera and stores that information in a database for 30 days.

The database stores not only license plate information, but uses artificial intelligence to determine the color, make and model of each vehicle.

"Say we are looking for a Red Chevy, whatever, and the system will go find it," Sharp said. "This is an enormous tool for criminal investigations, that's what it's used for.

"There's nobody sitting around doing surveillance on anybody, that's not the way this system is set up. That's not what we use it for."

The Riverside County Sheriff's Department isn't the only law enforcement agency that employs Flock Safety technology. Eyewitness News has learned that various cities throughout Southern California also use the system, including Azusa, Covina, Redlands, Riverside and West Covina.

The contract will cost Riverside County taxpayers approximately $6.9 million over a five-year period.